With little variation, the teams projected first and second entering the college football season are the previous two national champions, Florida State and Alabama.
As guesswork, not so bold, but the reasoning is firmly grounded. The Seminoles return the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in Jameis Winston, and the Crimson Tide figures to be the best team in the top conference, the SEC.
The Big 12 gets the first opportunity to dash the predictions.
In two of the highest-profile games on kickoff weekend, West Virginia takes on Alabama in Atlanta and Oklahoma State faces Florida State in Arlington, Texas. Both games are Saturday.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
Neither Big 12 foe is expected to fare well. The Mountaineers, picked to finish eighth in the 10-team Big 12, are a 26.5-point underdog. The Cowboys, the fifth choice, stand at plus-17.5 based on a Monday morning line.
The neutral-field opener isn’t new to Oklahoma State, which defeated Mississippi State in Houston last season. The quality of foe, however, is in direct proportion to the level of hyperbole from Pokes coach Mike Gundy.
“This team is as far along as any team I’ve played against in my 25 years at this level,” Gundy said.
Offensively, Florida State is loaded with Winston and an experienced offensive line and looks to trump last year that produced an NCAA-record 723 points. And all the defense did was lead the nation by allowing 12.1 points per game. Six starters return.
Oddly, Winston also has a presence in the Alabama-West Virginia game. The expected opposing quarterbacks in Atlanta, the Tide’s Jacob Coker and Mountaineers’ Clint Trickett, started their careers at Florida State and were competing for the starting job that Winston won last year.
Trickett left first and started a handful of games for coach Dana Holgorsen last year. Coker graduated from Florida State in May with a year of eligibility remaining and landed in Tuscaloosa.
Holgerson said the school accepted the chance to play this game with schedule strength in mind.
“Our nonconference scheduling is going to continue to be a challenging one,” Holgorsen said.
Some coaches might get the push from their athletic director to schedule softer, but that won’t happen at West Virginia with Oliver Luck in charge. He’s a member of the College Football Playoff committee, and schedule strength will be a factor in identifying the four teams for the playoff.
Former assistants face off in Texas
Charlie Strong will see a familiar face on the other sideline when he makes his Texas debut on Saturday.
The opponent, North Texas, is coached by Dan McCarney. Strong and McCarney served on Florida’s staff in 2008 and 2009, Strong as the defensive coordinator and McCarney as the defensive line coach. The 2008 team beat Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game.
“Just being around Coach Mack, I know this will be a very physical football team,” Strong said.
McCarney was Iowa State’s head coach from 1995-2006.
Ranking the Big 12
Sooners should breeze here
McLane Stadium debuts
3. Kansas State
Stephen F. Austin
SFA averaged FCS-best 389 passing yards
4. Oklahoma State
vs. Florida State (Arlington, Texas)
Huge test for J.T. Walsh
Mean Green won nine last year
Starting QB announced on game day
7. Texas Tech
No rotating QBs this year. Webb’s the one
8. West Virginia
vs. Alabama (Atlanta)
Having 19 returning starters gives WVU hope
9. Iowa State
North Dakota State
Cyclones aware of Bison power
Extra week to help new RBs prepare